A new study has aimed to shed light on the ways in which fungi cause infections in the human body in the hope that it will lead to better preventative treatments for patients.
Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio examined the current knowledge of receptors on innate cells - which are responsible for recognising fungal pathogens - and the protein called CARD9 that regulates them.
They were particularly interested in the fungus Cryptococcus, a common genus that often lives in soil and is not a threat to humans.
However, when people have immune systems that are weakened by illness or they are undergoing treatment for diseases such as HIV or cancer and therefore need immunosuppressant drugs, Cryptococcus can cause deadly infections.
In these cases, the immune system cannot respond to the infection and the body's innate cells that usually destroy pathogens allow the fungal infection to spread to the brain where it can lead to meningitis.
Many patients who undergo organ transplants may also be at risk from fungal infection and can require antifungal drugs for life, which researchers fear is leading to reduced efficacy and threats from resistance.
"One of the biggest challenges we're facing is that no vaccine currently exists for any fungal infection," said lead study researcher Althea Campuzano.
She and her colleagues are attempting to find out if they can regulate the body's ability to recognise fungi by manipulating CARD9 to trigger an immune response.
"We need more research involved with fungal pathogens in general. We're advocating for it so that we can work on a vaccine. A lot of people know about the dangers in bacteria and viruses, but this just isn't on their radar at all. We're going to change that," Ms Campuzano concluded.
Cryptococcus neoformans is the major pathogen in humans, but Cryptococcus laurentii and Cryptococcus albidus have also been known to cause serious illness in patients with compromised immunity, including meningitis.